Like many people, I was surprised by the results of the presidential election. Trump was probably one of the worst candidates in history, he had very little infrastructure, and he said things that made most people cringe.
While I was surprised by the results, I wasn’t surprised by the underlying sentiments that propelled Trump to victory. I have said for years that the Obama administration’s treatment of over one-half the country would generate a backlash. The backlash I knew was coming.....I just didn’t know that it would come in the form of Trump.
Let me make a few points:
While I did not support the election of President Obama, I did hope that he would move more to the center and would govern from the center. Instead, he made it clear that “elections have consequences,” that “he won,” and that he “had a mandate for change.” Time and again, when he had the chance to signal his respect for the other side of the country, he doubled-down and further alienated them. Even after massive Tea Party protests and losing congress and a large number of states, his administration never wavered in their commitment to ignore, tarnish, or besmirch the other half of the country.
As I pointed out in our book, for example, the Tea Party movement was well organized and largely civil. Over 2,000,000 citizens left their homes and marched on Washington DC to peacefully protest their government. What was the lefts response: The Tea Party is racist.
The Tea Party, however, worked within our political system to change government. They sponsored candidates to run in state and federal elections, turned out to vote, and got many of their candidates elected. What was the lefts response: The Tea Party is racist.
Like or dislike, agree or disagree with the Tea Party all you want. That is not the point. Look at how the administration and the institutional left treated these citizens--many of whom were retired and many of whom had never been politically active.
Now contrast the treatment of the peaceful Tea Party movement against the lefts embrace of the Occupy movement and BLM. The Occupy movement was anything but peaceful or civil and BLM, well.........
The administration and the institutional left gave these movements legitimacy, propelled them to the national spotlight, and their various leaders were invited to speak on college campuses and were even invited to the White House--multiple times.
Regardless of your political orientation, do you really believe Occupy or BLM represent the heartland of America?
Many Americans were appalled by the behaviors, protests, and statements of Occupy and BLM. They were even more appalled, however, that the administration embraced these groups.
Governing matters. It requires compromise, a recognition of the legitimacy of the other side, and even restraint. Governing means you don’t get everything your side wants and you don’t simply act because you can. More importantly, governing requires a respect for competing points of view. Bill Clinton knew how to govern. The Obama administration did not. They wanted to rule.
Americans don’t like to be ruled. They don’t like to be told what to do. And they really don’t like to be told that they are the problem. This is true of the left and of the right. But when one side or the other gets power, the temptation to rule is mighty. A few phone calls and the stroke of a pen and boom........your side gets everything it wants.
For 8 years people in the center and on the right have been told they are the problem, that they have to change, that they have to give up their traditions, their culture, their symbols, and even their language. Unfortunately, too many on the left were blinded by their loyalty to the administration to understand the deep and guttural level of resentment that was building.
The election of Trump shows just how alienated and angry a large cross-section of our citizens have been and it shows the utterly corrosive qualities of identity politics.
So, while elections do have consequences it appears that the left chose short term gains over long-term change. They chose identity politics over cohesion. They chose power over persuasion. Now what do they have? The lost the presidency, any hope for congress, most states, and many local elections. In a few weeks, everything they worked for will be gone.
You might think that I cherish this arrangement given my politics but you wold be wrong. Yes, I want to see the DOJ gutted and realigned and I want to see other agencies restrained. I want our military rebuilt, our police and institutions revalidated, and I want changes to Obamacare.
But it would be a mistake for the republicans to turn out the lights on the democrats. It would be a mistake for them to run roughshod over their concerns, their priorities, and their beliefs. The people who elected their democratic representatives deserve to be heard and they deserve a place at the table. I favor LIMITED government and it doesn’t matter if the republicans or democrats are in power.
As for the democratic party, I hope they confront their rather anti-democratic propensities. The DNC took away the choices of democrats by anointing Hillary Clinton and in so doing, they gave democrats the choice of electing someone they really didn’t support or of staying home---and the election data tell us they stayed home. More than anything, however, I hope the DNC moves away identity politics and the very tribal consequences they generate. Ideas matter and we need solid ideas from the left and the right.
Lastly, let me say this in clear and certain terms: Trump supporters are not racist, backwoods, rednecks, nor are Clinton supporters naive dunderheads who don’t know how the world works. I have friends on both sides of this divide and they all want to live in a free and open country. They want to be able go to work, to have their children educated, and to be safe. They also want their voices heard and they are all dignified, hard working, and worthy of respect. We are not the enemies of each other.
Let’s tone it down, find common ground, and show actual tolerance. If you are going to oppose the Trump presidency, then organize politically and sponsor candidates. We need a vocal and respected minority to hold the majority accountable. And if you are a Trump supporter, avoid the impulse for political revenge. Don’t become that which you detest.
John Paul Wright and Matt DeLisi
Professors of Crime and Criminology